When summer ends on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the coast is clear and the first tee is wide open
Everyone sighs To see the maples turn, but when you head to Vermont or New Hampshire in October, entire urban populations drive with you. Slip down to the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, on the other hand, and the world is your Wellfleet oyster. There, near the Mayflower’s sandy landing place, golf pilgrims embarking on buddy trips, family jaunts or couples getaways can put together multicourse excursions that wouldn’t be possible in high summer. The public golf is of a lofty enough standard to make a Cape and Islands sortie work beautifully, but even some of the region’s best private clubs are accessible if you know the right protocol.
Where to Play
Eastward ho! Country Club (Private)
Yes, that exclamation point could wear on a person, but the course more than merits one. The elevation changes along this design by the great English architect Herbert Fowler inject mystery and thrills into most shots, and to walk its heaving contours knowing that Cruden Bay and Walton Heath sprang from the same designer’s sketchpad only deepens the mood.
The first three holes acclimate you to the big shoulders of land that frame the playing corridors and the firm turf that keeps the ball running. The routing then moves onto an inspiring headland above Pleasant Bay. Things get Ballybunionesque on the 421-yard sixth, where a cratering fairway kicks drives to the right, aligning them with a four-story, rough-upholstered knob that makes the approach blind.
The front side gives way to a back nine with some huge rises and falls of land. Indeed, the member with whom I played those holes promised I’d be impressed by a “deep declivity” beyond the landing area on the eighteenth. It was, in fact, chasmlike, and a pleasure to land in for all the extra yards it brought, though it proved daunting as a launch pad for the day’s final iron shot.
325 Fox Hill Road, Chatham.
Herbert Fowler, 1922.
Guest Green Fee
Cape Cod National Golf Club
(Guests of Wequassett Resort only.)
Cape Cod National provides a worthy golf amenity for the sublime Wequassett inn down the road. The golf course looks stately but plays gritty. Especially on the par fives, architect Brian Silva dangles safety zones that are easy to play to but problematic to play from. An example is the first hole, where a layup has a great bowl of fairway in which to settle, but from which the ensuing shot is a tricky pitch over bunkers to a rumpled green. The tenth, a reachable three-shotter, is equally well thought out. The water carry off the tee is more benign than it looks and the woods and bunkers on the right can be skirted, but the green, perched up and off to the left, is easy to miss. A clever player, though, can take advantage of the unseen apron just short of it.
Using the land to feed the ball toward the target is fairly common at Cape Cod National, but there are some straightforward challenges, as well. On the 459-yard seventeenth, you darn well better bust a drive and, after that, a hefty approach shot—the latter is all carry over a massive kettle hole.
174 South Orleans Road, Brewster.
Brian Silva, 1998.
Guest Green Fees
The Club at New Seabury, Ocean
Martha’s Vineyard, clearly in view from the first tee, does little to block the prevailing southwest wind that governs Cape sailors and golfers all season long. Players confront this breeze on the opening drive of New Seabury’s Ocean Course, again on the par-four second, and once more on the shot toward the flapping flagstick of the par-four third. The routing departs the shore after these thrilling openers, but in exchange you get the wind at your back and a set of upland holes with plenty of character.
On the par-four ninth, the combination of bunkering, green tilt and the lunch crowd on the veranda makes flag-hunting a dangerous game. The tenth has a long saddle-shaped fairway that turns gracefully at its midpoint. A drifting tee shot may be contained, but the resulting fairway lie won’t be level. On the other hand, the par threes on this nine won’t tolerate an iffy shot, and where there is water there is genuine peril.
20 Red Brook Road, Mashpee.
William Mitchell and Marvin Armstrong, 1964.
130. Green Fees: $110–$120.
Sankaty Head Golf Club (Private)
On the Tuesday after Columbus Day, this landmark club summons its noblesse oblige and quietly opens to nonmembers. From then until December 15, golf pilgrims are turned loose on the classic layout beneath the lighthouse on Nantucket’s Siasconset (pronounced “SCON-set”) shore. Sankaty Head has the winds and tangy air of a links but not the soils and turf, and the lies are relatively level for seaside golf.
The highlight of the front nine is the fifth, a splendid two-shotter. After your drive clears a transverse ridge, you find your ball, hit it again, then ring an old ship’s bell to give players on the tee (it’s October now, so there won’t be any) the all-clear. The semi-punchbowl green accepts punch-and-run approaches or lofted iron shots.
The second nine tracks inland in rhythmic fashion, playing downslope then up, upwind then down. The whole place is reminiscent of Shinnecock Hills—lightly treed, with waving grasses that define the hole corridors—but its challenges are far less severe.
100 Sankaty Road, Siasconset.
Emerson Armstrong, 1923.
Guest Green Fee
The Captains Golf Course, Port and Starboard
The two eighteens at Captains are called Port and Starboard, and the nautical theme continues with dock cleats that double as tee markers and holes named for sea captains from Brewster’s briny past. Both courses consist of newer holes plus some from the original eighteen, which opened in 1985.
“Kettle” is the geological term for a glacier-formed depression, and “kame” is its opposite, a glacial mound or ridge. One memorable sequence on the Port Course involves these post-Pleistocene features, as a scary-deep dry kettle fronts the green of the par-five thirteenth and a kettle pond guards the short par-four fourteenth. Both holes also have kames to be negotiated, as does number sixteen, a delightful driving hole that orders up a shot between two copses of trees before swinging its fairway hard right toward a green site tucked behind yet another kettle.
1000 Freeman’s Way, Brewster.
Brian Silva, 1985, 1999.
6,724 (Port), 6,776 (Starboard).
130. Green Fees: $40–$64.
Farm Neck Golf Club
Farm Neck is a bit more suburban-looking than one might expect from a course on Martha’s Vineyard, but there’s wonderful golf to be had. The routing makes nice use of rolling woodland and meadowland and the proximity of what seems to be Nantucket Sound but is in fact Sengekontacket Pond. It first comes into view as you play number three, a beguiling par four, then appears again on the fourth and the approach to the seventh.
The back nine is undeniably tougher than the front. The holes bend more, play a little longer and are more densely bunkered. The par-four twelfth and par-three fifteenth are likely places for turnabouts in your Nassau: Water hazards guard each green, and although sailors would tell you that fortune favors the bold, think twice before shooting at pins placed by the banks.
One Farm Neck Way, Oak Bluffs.
Geoffrey Cornish and Bill Robinson, 1979.
135. Green Fee: $85.
Ocean Edge Resort & Club
Recently torn down and rebuilt by Nicklaus Design, the golf course at Ocean Edge is now brawnier to look at and better defined in its shotmaking demands. The front side still doesn’t have much topographic pop compared to the more dramatic back nine, but its new routing makes good use of the cross-Cape winds, tacking and turning in relation to the line of play.
Ocean Edge has large greens, but they don’t play that way, thanks to shaping that divides them into sectors. The par-three third, with its long diagonal green, is a good example, as is the one-shot eighth, which plays downhill over Blueberry Pond and features a putting surface bisected into raised and sunken tiers.
Likely the Cape’s most couples- and kid-friendly golf destination, Ocean Edge stretches its tee intervals to twelve minutes after 4 p.m., giving rookies plenty of space to make mistakes.
832 Villages Drive, Brewster.
Nicklaus Design, 2007.
133. Green Fee: $125.
The opener at this nine-holer is a short, straight par four, bunkered amateurishly. The closing hole calls for a choke-down wedge to a green shaped like a breaking wave. At points along the fifth and sixth fairways, you may feel the need for protective headgear. But the demerits don’t add up to much, because this ancient town-owned links has a blessedness that defies conventional critique. The treeless, windswept headland it occupies offers 270 degrees of Atlantic vista. Rabbits appear on the fringes of Scotch broom and fescue bordering the fairways. The most intriguing holes are the second, which turns toward a distant crenellated oddity called the Jenny Lind Tower, and the sixth, with its steep falloff at the end of the landing area requiring punchy iron play from down- and sidehill lies.
There is a highly recommended museum of Truro’s early history at the entrance to the property, and of course the magnificent Cape Cod Light alongside the seventh tee. Take some time to visit one or both after the scores are added up.
South Highland Road, Truro.
Willard Small and J. H. McKinley, 1892.
Where to Stay
The Club at New Seabury Far and away the most ambitious master plan ever seen on Cape Cod, New Seabury is more than a thousand acres of speed bumps and tasteful signage. A thousand-plus homes line its curving inner roadways. Book a room in the Vineyard Reach complex and you’ll overlook the clubhouse and a half-dozen holes from the two layouts. The complex is an eyeful—three levels of decks, gables and chimney tops—but it’s well appointed and well located. The more generous suites feature four bedrooms and four and a half baths, with Ethan Allen furnishings and prime water views.
Great Neck Road South, Mashpee. Rooms: $240–$620. Suites: $720–$1,250.
Ocean Edge Resort & Club
Route 6A reveals a watercolor softness around many a bend, but nothing I’ve seen from any Cape road looks quite like the sweep of lawn beyond the fieldstone wall fronting Nickerson Mansion, your beacon for the Ocean Edge Resort. Inside it is an oak-lined reception area with a dark parson’s bench, leaded windows and a view of the distant bay. It produces a powerful effect, especially on a cool fall afternoon.
Be careful if booking your Ocean Edge accommodation online—not every homeowner has golf privileges. The issue is avoided, though, by going through the resort’s reservation office. Ask for 91 Bay Pines (Eastham House), a newly spiffed two-level home with views of dunes and water stretching all the way to Provincetown’s peninsular hook.
2907 Main Street, Brewster. Rooms: $200–$300. Suites: $400–$800.
It’s natural to view Martha’s Vineyard as a satellite of the Cape, slung into the ocean but culturally contiguous, but Nantucket could be mistaken for a suburb of Bermuda. Its main street, just steps from the ferry landing, is paved in brick, cobblestone, granite—and perhaps a shard of whalebone, as well. It takes a full morning to soak up the essence of Nantucket Town, but then you’re content to leave it behind in search of a quiet refuge.
The Wauwinet Inn, a true luxury outpost on a secluded stretch of coast, fits the bill. Guests can repose on designer linens and gaze out mullioned windows onto tranquil waters, or head out early for golf, surfcasting or a kayak tour. The sunset cocktail on Wauwinet’s porch comes earlier as autumn unfurls, but it’s still a proper prelude to dinner at Topper’s, the inn’s culinary jewel.
120 Wauwinet Road, Nantucket. Rooms: $380–$1,120. Suites: $710–$1,250.
Wequassett Resort and Golf Club
This property on Chatham’s Pleasant Bay recently completed the first phase of a $40 million renovation. The project included the creation of the new Signature line of guest rooms—a great success, as they’re a design-magazine layout sprung to life. These rooms have iPod docking stations and a single control to operate the lights, your audio system and the televisions. For a higher-tech hotel room, you might have to visit Tokyo.
The inn also makes its case as one of the Cape’s best dining destinations. Twenty-eight Atlantic, its luxurious flagship restaurant, ranks as the only four-star establishment within fifty miles.
Pleasant Bay, Chatham. Rooms: $305–$1,150. Suites: $975–$3,000.
Contact: 800-225-7125, wequassettinn.com.
Where to Eat
Hyannis’s familiar Main Street is now bookended by a pair of how’d-this-get-here tapas taverns, Hannah Fusion and EmBargo. The latter is large and sleek, with bar seating for thirty-plus in a grand horseshoe, as well as a line of half-moon banquettes with smooth leather seating on the far wall. The food is excellent, including light, tangy spring rolls and garlic shrimp that pop with flavor.
453 Main Street, Hyannis; 508-771-9700. $$$
Mattakeese Wharf (Steaks/seafood)
With its ships’ wheels, mounted game fish and sculpted bowsprit maidens, the Mattakeese is unabashed in its seafaring kitsch, but it fits in with the clanging halyards and idling outboards of Barnstable Harbor. The menu, backed by a wine list that just squeaks by, is basically steak and local seafood, served fresh—and always just what you wanted.
Millway Road, Barnstable; 508-362-4511. $$$
The Wicked Oyster (Seafood)
Golf trips like this sometimes require a brief descent into Tourism, and Wellfleet provides a fine one. Turn left onto Main Street, note the Wicked Oyster on your right, then cruise through town, making a left down Holbrook Avenue to the boat-filled harbor. Breathe in some bay air, watch a kid work a drop line for crabs off a pier, and finally swing back up Commercial Street to your table at the Oyster, which feels like a roadhouse retrofitted with some urban sophistication. Slurp a half-dozen raw ones and whatever else the doctor ordered.
50 Main Street, Wellfleet; 508-349-3455. $$$
Orientation: Getting There
If you’re coming from beyond driving distance, check out flights into Logan International in Boston, T. F. Green Airport near Providence and Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis. The ride to your first Cape destination from Boston or Providence will be ninety minutes or less. After Labor Day, traffic eases on the Cape’s roads and entry bridges and space opens up on the ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. That said, the fare to bring cars across is $150 to almost $450 round trip, depending on which island, the speed of the boat and the size of the vehicle. Without a car, you’ll pay $15 to $65 round trip. Taxis are available for those who arrive on foot.
Especially if you already belong to a private golf club, many members-only institutions on the other side of the Bourne and the Sagamore Bridges will drop their velvet ropes and let you pay to play after Labor Day. Sankaty Head Golf Club, where Myles Standish and John Quincy Adams remain on the waiting list, welcomes visitors come mid-October. Eastward Ho!, the region’s most dramatic and wave-lapped layout, accepts players who can bill the guest fee to their member accounts back home and have payment forwarded. As for that Camelot of Cape courses, Hyannisport— well, I’m not supposed to mention it. But if you belong somewhere respectable, do make the appropriate inquiries.
This summer’s forays out to Stellwagen Bank reportedly yielded frequent sightings of finbacks, humpbacks, minke whales and even a basking shark. Just a few minutes’ contact with these giants makes a deep, lasting impression. Stellwagen is a natural underwater plateau at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay that was mapped by the Navy before the Civil War. Its fame as a whale-watching ground is widespread. There is even a humpback-whale feeding tactic considered specific to Stellwagen. The Hyannis Whale Watcher (whales.net.) fleet sails from Barnstable Harbor for a half-day cruise in “jet-powered, whale-friendly” vessels with all the creature comforts.
Golf architects dreaming of linksland to build upon should probably avoid Art’s Dune Tours (artsdunetours.com.) Since the 1940s, Art’s has met passengers on P-town’s charmingly chaotic Standish Street and four-wheeled them through a dramatic backcountry of dune fields. Amid the wind-shaped sand and carpeted moors are painstakingly preserved shacks where the likes of Eugene O’Neill and Jack Kerouac retreated to think and write. If you just want a glimpse of this terrain, visit the observation deck of the Province Lands Visitors Center. Federal statutes prohibit development of this land—as much we love golf, it’s for the best.